.- The 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin will offer much-needed hope to the Irish Catholic Church, according to event organizers making a pilgrimage to Rome for the March 17 feast of Saint Patrick.
“The congress is an important milestone in the process of renewal,” said Fr. Kevin Doran, secretary general of the event scheduled for June 10-17. He spoke to CNA in Rome, where he has traveled as part of a delegation that will meet with Pope Benedict XVI on March 14.
While “no single event is going to bring about renewal” in the Irish Church at once, Fr. Doran believes the global Eucharistic gathering will be an important step in the process.
A revival of Irish Catholicism, he suggested, starts with interior spiritual change rather than an outward restoration. The congress “is not about specifically the renewal of structures, but about the re-positioning of people's hearts.”
Traveling to Rome with the delegation, as a symbol of its call to prayer and sacramental life, is the International Eucharistic Congress Bell. The bell has already been carried to all of Ireland's 26 dioceses, where 250,000 of the faithful have given it a “ring for renewal.”
During its stop in Rome on Wednesday, it is hoped that Pope Benedict will ring the Eucharistic Congress Bell. Originally used to called a convent of Irish nuns to prayer for many years, this symbol of the congress now calls Ireland back to the source of Catholic life.
“As Pope John Paul II said, 'the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,'” Fr. Doran recalled, as he explained how Christ's presence builds up the spiritual life begun in baptism.
He said that this process involves “both the sacrament and sacrifice of the Eucharist” – by which Jesus' death and resurrection are made present – and “all the other elements” of the Church's formal worship, such as the gathering of the community and the proclamation of God's word in scripture.
All of these aspects of the sacrament, as well as the worship of Jesus Christ in Eucharistic adoration, will be highlighted in different ways during the eight-day celebration of faith.
Fr. Doran wants pilgrims from around the world to encounter Christ in a transforming way during the International Eucharistic Congress, so that they can build a closer relationship with him in the future.
He envisions its concluding Mass, taking place at Dublin's Croke Park on June 17, as a new beginning for the 80,000-plus worshipers expected to attend.
“Without going into the details and spoiling people's surprise, the conclusion of the Mass in Croke Park will be about entrusting people with a mission: to continue to build communion with Christ and with one another,” he said.
With the International Eucharistic Congress' delegation and bell visiting Rome for St. Patrick's Day, speculation persists as to whether Pope Benedict XVI might attend the congress in June.
The Pope received an official invitation to the event from Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. But there are concerns over the timing of a papal visit following several abuse scandals in the Irish Church, as well as difficulties between the Irish government and the Vatican during 2011.
“I don't know what the Pope is going to do – obviously, that's the best kept secret,” Fr. Doran said.
“But I know that he knows he's very welcome, and that one way or the other he will be very close to us during the congress.”